Diver Continued Diving Even With Possible Skin Bends

Diver, concerned with cost of treatment, continued to dive despite the possibility that he may be suffering decompression sickness

Reported Story

Diving began on Thursday and most of the dives were relatively deep in the range of 90-120 feet (25-35m). The first day, I made three day dives and one night dive. All surface intervals were two hours or more. For all dives, everybody on board was using EAN 32.

On Saturday, I noticed that I was feeling itchy on my torso after the second dive. I felt like scratching myself, but decided not to. After the third dive which was a bit shallower, I noticed that I was no longer itchy. This phenomenon repeated itself over the next five days. After two dives on Monday, I felt itchy again. On this particular day we were given the option to visit an island or do a third dive. I opted to visit the island. After walking on the island for about an hour the itchiness seemed to disappear.

At first I thought it could have something to do with the saltiness of the water and completely ignored the itchiness. I had a dermatologic antibiotic ointment and cream which I rubbed over the itchy area. However this did not relieve the itchiness. As I continued to think about the itchiness, skin bends came to my mind. However, I did not have mottled skin and itchiness did not turn to pain on the torso.

On Wednesday, the last day of diving, the first dive was at a depth of 120ft (36m). The second dive was at a depth of 113 fsw (34 msw). After the second dive, I again felt itchy. I made a third dive two hours later, touching 81 fsw (25 msw). However the major part of the dive was at 51 fsw (16 msw). I came up from this dive and again was relieved of the itchiness. I suppose the smartest thing to do when I felt I might be getting bent due to the itchiness was to request oxygen which was available on the boat. I did not do this because I thought there may be an extra charge for using oxygen and also I would be prevented from diving for the remainder of the trip as a safety precaution. This was the most expensive dive trip I have ever taken and therefore I did not want to have to stop diving. However common sense would have dictated that it was better to stop diving than be flown to a chamber at excessively high cost.


Mere itchiness without other signs or symptoms is not a common manifestation of decompression sickness. Even so, if the diver suspected decompression sickness then there were a number of risk-reduction strategies that the diver might have considered, such as making shallower dives, ascending well before nearing the no-decompression limit, making fewer dives per day, and/or having longer surface intervals between dives. DAN also recommends every diver carry adequate insurance when taking a dive holiday, to greatly reduce economic concerns in situations such as in this incident.

Peter Buzzacott, MPH, Ph.D.